Given the word “chai” means “tea” in Hindi and many other languages, the term “chai tea” becomes redundant. Even so, when we order a chai tea, we’re sure to get the distinctive blend of spiced black tea and milk called “masala chai” in its country of origin. Recipes vary widely, but the most familiar spice tones include green cardamom, cloves, peppercorn, cinnamon and notes of licorice from fennel seed or star anise. Once relegated to Indian restaurants here in the U.S., in recent years the exotic beverage has become all but commonplace as an alternative to the fancy coffee drinks found in the five-buck-a-cup coffee shop scene.
Can’t start your day without a fix of this spiced tea served hot or over ice? We feel the same way, but that pit stop on the way to the office is no longer necessary. Chai concentrate made at home costs just pennies a cup, showcases the value of using fresh herbs and spices and skips the often unpronounceable additives found in some commercial versions. Best of all, it can be tweaked to suit your taste using spices common to the spice rack and even an herb or two taken fresh from the garden.
Using homegrown ingredients like ginger and fennel will help make your homemade chai stand out from the crowd, but it’s easy to adjust your chai to amp up or temper spices to taste. Strong flavors are tamed by brown sugar and the 1:1 ratio of milk to tea that makes chai tea a creamy and flavorful favorite.
Chai Tea Concentrate
- 3” ginger root
- 6 cardamom pods
- 2 teaspoons fennel seed
- 10 peppercorns
- 10 whole cloves
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 1 vanilla bean, sliced lengthwise
- 1/4 cup brown sugar (may be adjusted to taste)
- 6 cups water
- 10 bags black tea
In a heavy pot, bring ginger root, cardamom, fennel, peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon sticks, vanilla and brown sugar to boil and reduce heat to simmer for 15 minutes.
Remove pot from heat, add tea bags and allow to steep for 10 minutes to produce a strong, dark tea.
Strain out solids and discard.
Store chai concentrate in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.
Combine with milk at a ratio of 1:1 and heat to serve or pour over ice to serve cold.